Red Bull did not give me wings.

by | Mar 20, 2020

Having had a career in the NHS and local government. I grew up in a rural backdrop. Unbeknown to me, for many years I suffered with anxiety and depression, but never sought help for this.

I pursued my dream of working as a mental health nurse. During my training I experienced several episodes of low mood and anxiety, which I thought at the time was normal. 

I plodded on and a couple of times sought help from my GP, none of this lead to getting formal support and I carried kicking the can down the road psychologically speaking. 

However, the work was rewarding and utilising both positive coping mechanisms, as well as some not so great strategies, life continued. I got married and had children. I always felt an imposter in my career, but people seemed to see my talents, and boyish enthusiasm to make a difference. 

To cope with my mental health as demands on me grew, I worked more hours and started using Red Bull, a caffeine drink, excessively.

In response to the stress and mood disorder, looking back, there were several episodes of extreme activity, initially productive but then becoming agitated and extremely excitable.  On reflection, as I was an executive director, this was viewed as me being rather dynamic and creative, with an edge of extreme agitation and ruthless approach to people. Not a proud time for me upon reflection.

I had always been slightly up and down, insecure, but also more fortunate than many, in well-paid jobs. This probably played into my anxiety, to get the job done, with my low mood coming across in a ruthless way, which was culturally supported. 

Then in 2010, working excessively, again with the anxiety of never feeling good enough or competent, I took some leave to go on holiday with my wife and children. I was extremely aggressive, elated, with the TV and radio trying to communicate with me so I believed. My family were traumatised, but I had no insight into my behaviour. I was at the top of my game career-wise, but the price being paid was very great. My mania had raised its ugly head, stronger than before, more intense and acute, with a big impact on my children.

The flight home during this phase was extremely interesting, for want of a better word, in a manic state, rapid thought processes, illogical. 

Coming back to the requirement of needing help and my GP having been a clinical colleague during our younger years of working together, was sobering. I was left very clear, I had to accept help or help would be imposed (scary to be at a point where the Mental Health Act would kick in). I realise family, friends and the mental health services where excellent, supportive and enabling. Not that anyone who knows me would say I am easy or will comply to a strict regime of medication (hated that – but well, it was needed).

Support, treatment and talking, really did help me move past this phase. 

So what am I saying, mental health effects everyone, and what you see in people is not always them, so take time to understand people.

A mental health label does not define you or dictate the narrative about you. 

My life is wonderful, it has been a journey…

Work, when I was well enough to go back, had changed, or I had. I went back for 10 months and it was difficult. In that time, though, I was able to reappraise my life, I learnt a lot about myself and what is important.

I stepped forward into a new career, and a new and once scary place of uncertainty became an exciting opportunity.

Yes, I still have highs and lows, and yes, believe sometimes I am not good enough.

I am not defined by mental illness. I am defined by my love of my family, my work, my ability to not be so judgemental of myself, and acceptance that none of us are perfect, but being OK is not a bad place to be.

A meaningful quote that guides my wellbeing from the late Denis Potter:

“At this season, the blossom is out in full now … and instead of saying ‘Oh that’s nice blossom’ … last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance. Not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.” It is impossible not to notice that, this week, the blossom is out again.

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